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Review: Disney's 'Cruella' is a surprisingly entertaining origin story of an iconic villain

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney's "Cruella."

(Courtesy of Disney)

THE HIDEOUT — Movie theaters are starting to open back up and studios are hoping to entice you back with their latest offering.

One of the first movies out of the gate is Disney's "Cruella," the story of how the "101 Dalmatians" villain became the wicked diva she is.

I wasn't sure what to think of this movie going in. It had a great cast led by Academy Award-winner Emma Stone and carried a PG-13 rating with what appeared to be a dark tone for a Disney film. My hopes weren't high, but they weren't low either. They were fairly apathetic and I thought I'd let the movie speak for itself and reserve judgment, and I'm glad I did.

"Cruella" is a surprisingly entertaining and engaging movie that caught me off-guard. Here are a few reasons "Cruella" is worth a watch.

Emma Stone anchors strong cast

When you have great actors, odds are you're going to get something good out of the experiment. Stone embodies the role of Cruella and manages to pull off the transformation brilliantly. You simultaneously hate this villain and empathize with her situation. Stone was a fine pick for the iconic baddie, but she's not the only one who shines.

Emma Thompson plays an egotistical and downright nasty fashion designer named The Baroness, and she takes the role head on. Along with the two Emmas, you have fine performances from secondary players like Joel Fry as Jasper and Mark Strong as John the Valet, but it's Paul Walter Hauser as Horace who steals the show.

You may recognize Hauser from roles in "I, Tonya," the TV show "Cobra Kai" and his celebrated performance in "Richard Jewell." But suffice it to say if you have seen him you know he eats up the screen in every scene he's in, and "Cruella" is no exception.

The story has a great hook

I have struggled in the past with these villain origin stories from Disney. "Maleficent" left something to be desired, and I'd rather not get into its sequel. It might be the limited scope of my brain or my unwillingness to accept something new that has been canon for so long, but finding empathy and turning these scoundrels into heroes has been a tough pill for me to swallow.

There is something about "Cruella," however, that feels a little different.

The story itself had some fun twists and turns, with a few big reveals to keep it moving. I love it when a movie can surprise me, and "Cruella" did. You know something is coming and you're waiting for that shoe to drop, but when it does it often comes with an unexpected flourish.

The filmmakers of "Cruella" have not turned her into a lovable hero, but rather a misunderstood genius with a mean streak and namesake she has deserved.

The set pieces are stunning

One of the best parts of a movie is getting lost in the world being created before your eyes. "Cruella" takes place in 1970s London, but there is a certain dramatic flair added to the set pieces that makes the world enthralling.

In addition to the London we know there is something almost imperceptible in the way the sets have been designed to match the high-fashion of the characters themselves, and the scenery seems to evolve along with the characters. From Cruella's hideout to The Baroness's country manor, there is a hint of the dramatic in all of the set pieces with a dash of whimsy mixed with dread.

Many people don't often notice the set design of a film, but it's worth your time to pay attention to the detail and work that went into "Cruella."

Is it OK for my kids?

"Cruella" is rated PG-13 and it's darker than many of Disney's offerings. I think the rating is merited for the tone more than the content.

It's a dark and heavy mood throughout the film, but that's not to say there aren't plenty of laughs and moments of levity. But the film deals with themes of murder, revenge, blackmail and power. Some younger audiences may find it a little too disturbing while others may feel a little bored.

For me, the movie is geared to a more grown-up audience. The 12-and-older age group may be able to handle some of the subject matter and appreciate the pace of the film.

Is it worth a trip to the theater?

"Cruella" will hit both theaters and Disney+ with Premier Access on Friday, so if you're excited to see it you have options. If it's worth seeing in the theater is ultimately a question you'll have to answer.

Considering the set pieces, detailed costumes and moments of action, this is a movie that would be appreciated on the big screen. But if the theater is something you haven't missed, then a night at home with the family would suffice for the film and likely save you a few bucks. The movie will cost an additional $30 through Disney+ Premier Access, but that is likely less than you'd pay for enough movie theater tickets for your entire family.

As someone who loves going to the movies and misses it, I'd say "Cruella" is worth the trip. For those wanting to stay in, I'd say it's worth the extra cash to have a fun movie night at home.

"Cruella" is rated PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements.

About the Author: John Clyde

John has grown up around movies and annoys friends and family with his movie facts and knowledge. He also has a passion for sports and pretty much anything awesome, and it just so happens, that these are the three things he writes about. To read more of his articles, visit John's author page.


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